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Tiny Ray of Hope as Pair of Sea Otter Seen on N. Oregon Coast After Being Extinct Here for 100 Years

Published 6/30/24 at 5:45 p.m.
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – After being extinct from Oregon's offshore waters for over 100 years, there was a little ray of hope this week for the sea otter. The Elakha Alliance (EA) excitedly announced it had confirmed a pair of sea otters at Ecola Point at the northern edges of Cannon Beach on June 28 – the first time two living ones (that were not already dying) were spotted on the Oregon coast in decades. (Photo Chanel Hason)

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“This is a significant event as there has been no established population of sea otters along the Oregon coast since they were hunted to local extinction for their fur by the early 1900s,” EA said.

EA is a non-profit working to reintroduce the sea otter back to Oregon's ocean waters.

The group said it was able to confirm the sighting of the pair after a report from local volunteers spotted them initially. Chanel Hason, a marine biologist and Director of Outreach and Community Relations for the Elakha Alliance, made it down to Ecola Point and managed to photograph the two. Hason saw them swimming around the area and foraging.

Like previous sightings that have happened here, EA said it's likely the two swam down from the the north Washington coast's Olymic Peninsula area, where there's a sizable colony of about 2000 sea otters.

Photo Chanel Hason

“Sea otters are not a migratory species, which explains why they have not naturally re-established a population on the Oregon coast during the past century of their absence,” EA said.

EA said a few times a year, dead sea otter will wash up on Oregon beaches. While people say they spot otters all the time on coastal rivers – those are river otters and not sea otters.

One of the last major sightings of a sea otter was in April of 2021, when Seaside Aquarium responded to its first as part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. The animal was struggling and extremely ill, washing up in the Manzanita area. They do not end up on land unless they are on their last breaths.

Photo Seaside Aquarium: dying sea otter in '21

During that incident, EA told Oregon Coast Beach Connection the odd sighting here or there probably does not mean much. While EA is currently “thrilled” about this sighting, there's still a long way to go to confirm anything about a new population.

“Unless there were a lot sea otters a lot closer to Oregon, it's not an avenue for recovery,” EA said in 2021.

Photo Chanel Hason

Another issue: even if there are pairs or a few living along Oregon's coast in little pockets, the gaps between those groups won't help their survival here.

Male otters will occasionally make the long trek down from Washington, but they're usually lone wanderers. Females don't do this, according to EA.

USFWS was able to reintroduce a population of sea otter to the Oregon coast in the '70s but it failed for reasons still yet unknown.

Otter Rock near Depoe Bay was so named because it reportedly had an enormous population of them “just floating there,” according to newspaper reports in the early century. While it can't be confirmed, history indicates a local man named Joe Biggs claimed to have shot the last one in 1906. He apparently snagged a hefty $900 for the pelt, and supposedly this is when and where the name for Otter Rock was born.

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Photo Chanel Hason

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Coastal Spotlight

Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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